BUCKHANNON — This series of regular articles explores aspects of Upshur County’s history, culture or people honored by the West Virginia Highway Historical Marker Program. The state register lists 20 of these iconic white plaques in Upshur County, and each article will present as much information on the subject as can be found. This third installment will focus on the life and career of Daniel D.T. Farnsworth, West Virginia founder and statesman.
Born on December 23, 1819 in Staten Island, NY, Daniel Duane Tompkins Farnsworth moved with his parents and grandparents to Buckhannon at age 2. His grandfather, also named Daniel, contracted Joel Westfall to build the first house in Buckhannon, a two-story hewn log structure on lot #27. At the age of 15, young Farnsworth went to Clarksburg to learn the tailor’s trade, a profession he followed for 13 years. He then carried on a mercantile business in Buckhannon for another 13 years before turning to farming. Farnsworth owned stock in several business ventures in Buckhannon, including a large flour mill on the island, the town bank and a railroad running from Clarksburg to Buckhannon.
Farnsworth was one of the early magistrates of the newly-formed Upshur County in 1851 and, in his later life, was an advocate for equal rights and the protection of labor. In 1860, he was elected to a term in the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly. As Virginia moved to secede from the Union, Farnsworth chose to serve in the Second Wheeling Convention in the summer of 1861, there helping to create the Reorganized Government of Virginia, and later, the new state of West Virginia. During the August session of the Second Wheeling Convention, Farnsworth served on a committee to establish the boundaries of the new state. The committee made its proposal on August 20 and the convention adopted the recommendations with a vote of 50 to 28.
Farnsworth was a fiery Unionist; once, while speaking in Philippi, he defied the rebel soldiers who threatened to shoot him if he persisted. He declared that he would never be silent while he could speak for his country and its flag. Farnsworth was elected to the first House of Delegates of the new state of West Virginia, and later to the state senate. As President of the Senate, he assumed the office of governor upon the resignation of Arthur I. Boreman, who resigned in the last days of his term after being elected as a US Senator by the state legislature. Farnsworth would serve as West Virginia’s second governor for only seven days, from February 26 to March 4, 1869, until William E. Stevenson was sworn in to begin the term to which he had been elected the previous fall; Farnsworth was 49 at the time. Upon completion of his short term, Farnsworth, a Republican, returned to his state senate seat, where he served a total of seven years. Farnsworth also participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1872, during which he helped prohibit railroad company officers from serving in the state legislature. Farnsworth feared that if the railroad companies grew too powerful, it would be detrimental for the development of the state.
Farnsworth was married twice, first to Ann M. Gibson (1824-52) of Harrison County, then to Mary Jane Theresa Ireland (1830-1923) of Upshur County, a niece of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Six children were born of the first marriage and either seven or ten of the second marriage.
Farnsworth was 73 years old when he died at his home on East Main Street in Buckhannon on December 5, 1892. He was interred in Heavner Cemetery, where the highway marker memorializing him can be found. Numerous descendants reside in the central West Virginia area, including his great-great-grandson Daniel D.T. Farnsworth IV, a Weston optometrist. The governor’s home has been restored and is operated as a bed-and-breakfast, the Governor’s Inn, in Buckhannon.